With More Equity, More Sweat
First of five articles
By Richard Morin and Megan Rosenfeld
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, March 22, 1998; Page A1
Men and women have declared a cease-fire in the war that raged between the sexes through much of the last half of this century. In its place, they face common new enemies the stress, lack of time and financial pressure of modern life.
A new national survey has found that after nearly a generation of sharing the workplace and renegotiating domestic duties, most men and women agree that increased gender equity has enriched both sexes. But both also believe that the strains of this relatively new world have made building successful marriages, raising children and leading satisfying lives ever more difficult.
The problem that now unites them, as warehouse operations manager James Lindow, 35, of Green Bay, Wis., put it, is "the lack of time you spend with your life."
Large majorities of more than 4,000 men and women questioned in a series of surveys last fall placed high importance on having a successful marriage and family. At the same time, equally large majorities of working men and women said they felt bad about leaving their children in the care of others, and wished they could devote more time to their families and themselves.
Surprisingly, although men and women agreed they should have equal work opportunities, and men said they approved of women working outside the home, large majorities of both said it would be better if women could instead stay home and just take care of the house and children.
Majorities of men and women believe there still are more advantages to being a man rather than a woman, and that most men don't understand the problems women face. And the survey shows that in some areas, the reality of daily existence for two-career families still has not caught up with changed attitudes.
Most men in the polls said they were happy to share child care and domestic chores with wives who work outside the home. Yet household duties remain sharply divided along gender lines. Working mothers still do twice as much housework as their husbands, and more than half of all women questioned expressed at least some dissatisfaction with the amount of help their husbands provide around the house.
"I think men are beginning to get it, at least some are, some of the time," said survey respondent Traci Hughes-Velez, 34, of Brooklyn, N.Y., director of compensation for a major corporation. "But there are times they don't. My husband just doesn't seem to get it when I tell him that I feel I'm always on duty. When we're at home, I'm the one who always has an eye out for our son, making sure he's eating on time, things like that."
The survey shows that real differences in perspective and perception remain between the sexes. Men are more likely to support increases in defense spending; women more favorably disposed toward health care for uninsured children. Women are more likely than men to be religious and to value close friendships; men are more likely than women to want successful careers and wealth, and more likely to value an "active sex life."
But rather than emphasizing their differences and blaming many of life's problems on each other, men and women share a sense of conflict and confusion about how to make it all work under today's pressures. To a large extent, the politics of resentment have become the politics of fatigue.
Over the next five days, The Post will examine how men and women are managing in this transformed world based on a series of five nationwide surveys sponsored by The Washington Post in collaboration with researchers from Harvard University and the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.
The people surveyed came from all walks of life and all parts of the country. They included people like B.J. Sande, a 32-year-old mechanical engineer from Chattaroy, Wash., and Phyllis Wilkes, a 68-year-old San Franciscan retired from waitressing in a restaurant called Clown Alley. A sewing machine operator, a preschool teacher, a woman on welfare, a man looking for a job they all spoke with conviction about how their lives are mostly better but definitely harder.
Today's story describes some of the consequences of the gender revolution, as revealed in survey data, in conversations with men and women, and in interviews with social scientists. Subsequent stories will examine women and men in the workplace, where expectations openly collide with the old ways of doing business; how changing gender roles have affected love and marriage; and how new research into the world of boys is posing troubling questions about how we raise our sons.
Jobs Change, Chores Don't
In just the past three decades, most Americans agree that changing gender roles have dramatically altered their lives at work and at home.
Government statistics confirm what they see every day: The world of work is increasingly a man's and a woman's world. Between 1970 and 1995, the percentage of women ages 25 to 54 who worked outside the home climbed from 50 percent to 76 percent, sociologists Suzanne Bianchi and Daphne Spain reported in their recent book "Balancing Act."
Other numbers tell a richer story. The percentage of lawyers and judges who are women doubled to 29 percent between 1983 and 1996, while the percentage of female physicians increased from 16 to 26 percent. Today, nearly a third of all professional athletes are women almost double the proportion in 1983.
Women currently make up nearly half of all entry- and mid-level managers in American corporations, up from 17 percent in 1972. But the executive suite remains disproportionately male: A 1995 survey of Fortune 500 corporations found that only 1 in 10 corporate officers and fewer than 3 percent of all chief executive officers are women.
In higher education, gender equity is a reality. Slightly more than half of all bachelor's degrees were awarded to women last year, and the percentage of doctoral degrees granted to white women has increased from 25 percent in 1977 to 44 percent in 1993. Among African Americans, women receive more of the doctorates.
At home, men do more around the house than their fathers ever did. But the burden still falls on women: On average, working mothers do about 20 hours of housework a week, down from 30 hours two decades ago, while their husbands are doing 10 hours a week, up from 5 hours, Bianchi said in the book. And it's still women who say they're responsible for the way the house looks, according to the Post-Kaiser-Harvard polls.
The survey of couples with children found that women still do most of the food shopping, laundry, cooking, cleaning, arranging for child care and babysitters, and taking children to appointments or after-school activities even when both parents work full time. Men tend to mow the lawn, shovel the snow and take out the trash, the survey found.
In important ways, the survey suggests that we have yet to find new patterns of living that recognize the real workloads of two-career couples with children, and some resentment, nostalgia and fatigue are reflected in the survey results.
"I work, my husband works, I come home and I work. I clean the house and I do my laundry," said Susan Gehrke, 44, a tenant assistant for the elderly in La Crosse, Wis. "Someone comes over and the house is a mess, they don't look at the man and think, 'What a slob,' they look at her and say, 'What a slob.' "
Said Lindow, 35, the Green Bay warehouse operations manager, whose wife also works full time: "Your kids are going to the day care, or wherever they are taken care of by somebody else. By the time you get done with your job, you've got to rush home and make supper, do whatever, and then you have to run your kids somewhere else. You don't get enough time to spend with your wife anymore, either, because you are both working. You're lucky if you get to see your wife one or two hours a day. What kind of quality time is that?"
Age, more than sex, shapes attitudes toward the changing roles of men and women, the survey suggests. Younger men and women were far more likely than their elders to say the change in gender roles has made their lives better.
"These changes have made a lot of people's lives better and it's made some people's lives worse," said the 32-year-old Sande, who is single. He added: "Any time there is a change like there has been in my generation, there is always going to be some growing pains. But as a whole I think it's moving toward the direction of making things easier, better."
Powerful social and economic forces nourish and sustain the trends that create these tensions. Two out of three men and women surveyed agreed that it takes two incomes to get by these days; about half the respondents men and women said they work mostly because they must.
One out of every five working women said she would cheerfully quit her job if only she could afford to but so did 1 in 5 men surveyed. Today, even mid-career crises are gender-neutral.
"I did stay home with my daughter the first couple years, but financially you just can't make it on one salary anymore," said Kelly Lynn Cruz, 22, of Henderson, Md., who is between jobs and has one child and another on the way. "It's hard on my family, anyway. I don't get to spend as much time with my child. The housework isn't always done, which makes me feel like I'm not always doing my job."
Why is the housework her work? "It just is," she said with a laugh, adding that "he helps. But it's mainly my job. I take care of the inside, he takes care of the outside."
Perhaps not even the '50s housewife worked this hard at home: "I've had grandmothers tell me their daughters work far harder and spend more time with their children than they did" in the 1950s, said Sharon Hays, a sociologist at the University of Virginia who studies family structure.
Many Americans say that mounting pressures to be it all and to have it all put many relationships on the rocks. In the survey, 7 in 10 said there's too much pressure on both men and women today to realize the American ideal: marriage, family and a successful career. Many survey respondents in subsequent interviews said they put the pressure on themselves. Not surprisingly, those who felt this tension most acutely also were more likely to say it's harder to make marriages and families work.
"There's too much pressure on everyone, period, whether they're men or women," said Karen Mapp, a 42-year-old PhD candidate and researcher in Boston.
No Going Back
In response to these pressures, 4 in 10 of those surveyed said, it would be better to return to the gender roles of the 1950s, a dimly remembered world of television's Ozzie and Harriet and their blithe suburban existence.
"I definitely think it would be good to go back," said Rose Pierre-Louis, 40, a social worker in Brooklyn, N.Y., who was among those interviewed in the poll. "Kids aren't being raised, they're just growing up. Nobody's getting married anymore. There's no respect between men and women, [or from] children for their parents."
But just as many Americans say they aren't eager to go back particularly young people, who do not bear the burden of their parents' nostalgia.
"I've never been under the impression that I couldn't do something because I was a woman," said Jennifer Wedberg, 25, a graphics designer who lives in Lisle, Ill. "It would be a shame if things went back to the way they were in the '50s. ... It's easier to grow up knowing that some day you're just going to get married and be a mom or a wife, and now it's more complex, you have to figure out what you want to do with your life. ... But I think more choices is always a good thing."
Young women like Wedberg have many of the same conflicts over whether to stay home or take an outside job after having children that their mothers might have had. But they also believe they are entitled to be full participants in areas of life their mothers had to fight to enter, and they assume their personal identity includes a job or a career. Similarly, young men generally accept that their lives at work and in the home have changed, and with these transformations have come new duties, responsibilities and rewards. "I'd just as soon stay home with the kids," said Lindow, who added that it doesn't bother him that his wife has a better job than he does.
"I think a lot of the problems we hear of now are because we have raised our standards," said Christopher M. Moeller, 22, a radio reporter in Des Moines. "We're more involved in each other's lives. ... We value equality, we value everybody wanting to have self-esteem, to get everything they want, and I don't see where imposing a limit on more than half of our population accomplishes that."
Assistant director of polling Claudia Deane and staff researcher Robert Thomason contributed to this report.
The Survey Team
These surveys are the fourth in a series of projects that The Washington Post, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard University are conducting on contemporary issues.
Representatives of the three sponsors worked closely to develop the survey questionnaire and analyze the results on which this series is based. The Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation with Harvard University are publishing independent summaries of the findings; each organization bears the sole responsibility for the work that appears under its name. The Kaiser Family Foundation and The Post paid for the surveys and related expenses. The survey data will be sent later this year to the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research at the University of Connecticut, where copies of the survey questionnaires and data will be available.
The project team included Richard Morin, Post director of polling, and Claudia Deane, assistant director of polling; Robert J. Blendon, a Harvard University professor who holds joint appointments in the School of Public Health and the Kennedy School of Government, and John Benson, deputy director for public opinion and health/social policy at the Harvard School of Public Health; Drew Altman, president of the Kaiser Family Foundation, and Mollyann Brodie, director of special projects for the Kaiser Foundation, a nonprofit organization that sponsors research into health care and other public policy issues.
In addition, five outside experts on gender attitudes and public opinion helped to shape the survey questionnaire: Suzanne Bianchi, professor of sociology at the University of Maryland; Karen Campbell, professor of sociology at Vanderbilt University; Scott Coltrane, professor of sociology at the University of California at Riverside; William S. Pollack, assistant professor of psychology at Harvard University Medical School; and Ruby Takanishi, president of the Foundation for Child Development.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company